South West Training Blog

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Mindfullness and Training

Mindfullness and Training

Janet Street-Porter gave her views on ‘Mindfulness’ meditation in the Daily Mail this week. At the risk of ‘outing’ my love of a good trashy read when I’m drinking my coffee first thing in the morning, I was caught by the title: ‘Can Mindfulness really make you Live longer’?


It caught my eye as ‘mindfulness’ is a term which is increasingly quoted on public forums. As a concept, it’s taken on a life of its own and it’s bandied about by psychologist, therapists, government bodies, NHS and celebrities alike. From a training perspective, mindfulness as a subject has started to dominate the training space and it’s a course that we are increasingly being asked for.


What does mindfulness mean though? If you ask a selection of people you’ll probably get a huge variety of responses. I’ve had a go at breaking it down into some of the key uses of the term 'mindfulness' on public forums. Hopefully this article will help you to appreciate the direction from which people may be coming when discussing this topic. 


Mindfulness as a Meditation Tool


In the article, Janet Street-Porter has a go at using mindfulness as a meditation tool. Apparently, using mindfulness in meditation can ‘reduce stress’ and potentially help you live longer. Ruby Wax and others are fervent followers of this technique and suggest that it is has helped them to overcome issues such as depression and anxiety.


Danny Penman, an author on the subject, states that ‘to practice mindfulness…a person must focus on what is happening inside their body and mind in real time’. This practice is known as ‘full conscious awareness’.


It seems that this technique is open to us all and that it can be done in just one minute per day. By regularly sitting still in a chair, focusing on your breath, and bringing your attention back to your breath each time it wanders, you can generate an inner calmness. It won’t happen overnight, but even fleeting senses of ‘stillness’ are valuable.


This sounds great, but I don’t know many people who would realistically have the patience to dedicate to this. A good website for those that are interested however is www.franticworld.com/what-is-mindfulness.


Mindfulness as Living in the Moment

Mindfulness is also used as a technique to help people actively ‘live more in the moment’. This technique is active rather than meditative and encourages individuals to focus on perceptions as part of their active day. If they find themselves worrying about potential future problems, historic stresses etc. then are required to refocus attentions back to the ‘here and now’ using techniques such as ‘the cloud technique’ to dispel negativity.


How does this work? Essentially, individuals imagine their worries and anxieties as clouds passing overhead. They recognise them and then visualise them dissipating and moving on – as such, helping to banish them from their minds. Individuals must also be open to positive events too. If something worthy happens, then recognise and consider it, even something as small as the smile of a passerby.

Mindfulness in the Training World

 When we are not ‘mindful’ we become ‘mindless’, living in a world of pre-established habits, behaviours and categories. Small changes and positive events may happen, but if we are mindless then we fail to recognise them; purely living on through pre-established rules and codes.


Although, within a business training capacity, mindfulness training can take many shapes and forms (including that of meditation and active mindfulness), in essence we help individuals to think about the way in which ‘mindlessness’ restricts our realities to the constructs which have been borne in our mind through years of habit and social shaping. If something doesn’t fit within our entrenched realities and categories, then we simply filter them out; hence missing out on the rich potential that life has to offer.


Through our training courses, we help people to understand the way in which are thoughts, actions and behaviours are constructed, the way in which these constructs may rigidly dictate our actions (even if the action taken isn’t the best action to take) and the way in which we may fail to perceive and learn from events taking place around us.


The training encourages people to be more sensitive to their environment, to welcome new information, to appreciate that there are many different perspectives in problem solving, in working together and in achieving successful outcomes. It encourages people to be mindful of the perspectives from which their colleagues and counterparts are coming and not to assume they are ‘wrong’ merely because they are approaching something from a different angle.


Within a cultural awareness training perspective, ‘mindfulness’ of one’s own cultural frameworks is an essential prerequisite to engaging in cultural training. How can we appreciate the cultural nuances of our peers if we can’t perceive how we ourselves are the product of such constructs?


Take for example an individual who would fall entirely under our ‘mindless’ label. As an extreme case, this individual perceives the world entirely as their experience of it. If people don’t behave and act within their own sense of reality then they are there purely to be tolerated and perhaps overlooked. In essence they deny themselves the rich reality of the world around us and they shun the opportunity to learn from an international human experience. Within the work place, it is possible that they operate within isolated frameworks for problem solving and see no benefit in doing things differently. Equally, they are likely to be irritated by people who do things differently to themselves; finding it harder to find synergy with their colleagues to arrive at positive outcomes.


By being mindful therefore, we appreciate these differences, we welcome them and are able to tune into the perspectives of those around us who may do things differently. Mindful people don’t just rely on the spoken word to do this, they attend entirely to the context to really appreciate what is happening. They are more likely to understand and empathise with the person with whom they are interacting and hence respond appropriately. For a mindful person, life is also more likely to be something that we learn from – developing new ways of doing things; leaving behind the ‘old’ and welcoming innovation and progress.


Bringing them Together


Relevant to all these key practices / interpretations of ‘mindfulness’ is ‘living in the moment’, being aware and conscious of ourselves and our impact on those around us. Adherents to all three of the practices outlined above would undoubtedly agree that you shouldn’t be lost in the past, anxious about what has already happened or worrying about what might happen in the future. Live for the present and be fully aware of what is happening around you. Hone into the good things that happen and leave yourself wide open to new experiences, people and viewpoints. Take the positives from situations and learn from those who might be doing things in a better way. And critically, remember at all times, that we are all products of our past and habits. Challenge the way you think and check that your thinking patterns aren’t holding you back and preventing you from growing and learning from those around you.

Training South West provide management training across the South West and have offices in Dorset and Somerset. 

 

 

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Make your Training Company Tender Questions Relevant

Make your Training Company Tender Questions Relevant

Part of my role as a Training Coordinator at Training South West is to tender for training contracts within the Dorset, Devon and Somerset area. Although the initial documentation phase can be rather painful at times, a number of businesses use this phase as a basis to select companies who perform well against criteria to take part in a subsequent face to face process. I really enjoy this part of the process as it provides a fantastic opportunity to increase my exposure to the diverse range of South West businesses and I’ve met some really interesting people because of it.

Having considerable experience commissioning HR services in a buyer capacity, I can honestly say that I far prefer being on the bidding side of the table. My experience of running tender processes is that it’s hard work, demanding and extremely time consuming.

Plus, let’s be honest, the documentation submission phase never makes exciting reading! This phase resolutely erases personality and human dynamic and instead presents the buyer with pure operational data coupled with criteria descriptions and weightings. Analysing huge numbers of responses can result in buyer apathy for even the most committed people.

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Having been through a detailed analysis of the initial phase and selected a number of those who meet the criteria, is not unusual for buyers to view a potential face to face phase as the ‘finish line’ without even sufficiently preparing; with an obvious impact on question quality and focus. On a personal front, I’d always suggest that businesses appoint a staff member with no involvement in the initial stages to help frame and deliver this phase as this keeps the momentum and energy going and helps ensure the business makes the right decisions.

One of the most effective ways of establishing questions to be used during the face to face phase is to speak to as many internal users of training services as possible.  Whether previous training delegates from across the organisation or Managers who have actively identified and overseen the delivery of training needs, these individuals will all have a view on what they believe works well for the organisation and areas which have maybe not worked so well.  Get as much feedback as possible as this will generate detailed insights into a broad spectrum of perspectives which will undoubtedly yield areas of relevant focus.  Consider also reviewing the long term impacts of previous training courses.  In what way did the courses impact the organisation?  Was there sufficient follow up? Was there a strategy in place to ensure that key learnings were further consolidated upon return to the office?

It may also be beneficial to draw upon your local business network to establish additional additional themes with which to discriminate between training providers. Since the training industry is constantly evolving, so too are the questions being asked of them.

In the meantime, here are some questions which I have either asked or been asked:

  • How will your trainers ensure they deliver the most impact within our business?

 

  • How will your trainers utilise their role to engage with our staff in a way that may otherwise be compromised by the hierarchy and structure of our business?

 

  • What will your trainers do to ensure that the training delivery methods used by your team constantly evolve and engage our staff members?

 

  • What methods will you use to assess the long term efficacy of your training interventions?

 

  • What might you do to address an imbalance between short term and long term training value?

 

  • The learning preferences of our staff can be very different. How will you ensure the training process is valuable for all our staff members?

 

  • How will you plan your training sessions to ensure that they are business relevant?

 

 

Training South West provide in-house and open training courses to businesses within the Somerset, Devon and Dorset areas. Look out for our 2016 open course calendar which will be published shortly.

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Is Financial Illiteracy Costing you Dearly?

Is Financial Illiteracy Costing you Dearly?

According to research by the think tank ‘IPPR’, British people love going it alone. They estimate that over 14% of us now work for ourselves.  There’s clearly a huge attraction to working independently (not least being able to manage your own holidays and working times) but the realities of being a sole worker without the backing of all the functions that typically support a larger business can be tough.
 
Not only does the individual need to excel professionally within their chosen specialism but they also need to be adept at marketing, sales, administration systems and processes, website management, IT, HR and finance. Arguably, financial literacy is one of the most critical assets as, without it, the success of the enterprise becomes at best compromised.  Poor financial literacy is, without doubt, one of the major reasons that so many self-employed enterprises fail within the first few years.  

Take for example an individual who has excellent turnover. They assume everything is ok because their sales ledger tells them it is but this individual has an insufficient understanding of cash flow. Despite successful sales, they have not forecast creditor needs and general expenditure such as annual tax payments and their business starts to suffer.

Although financial literacy is an essential skill, most schools do not teach it and neither do the majority of parents.  As such, an individual may leave academia with a praiseworthy understanding of their chosen speciality and establish their own enterprise but the inability to understand and reconcile their P&L, decipher assets from liabilities and truly understand their Balance Sheet jeopardises the potential of their business.
 
Financial training is therefore one of the most important investments that self-employed individuals should make if they are to successfully drive their enterprise.  Self-Study via internet sites is better than nothing and there are some great resources out there which will at least equip you with a basic understanding. Operating in the absence of a detailed knowledge and pressing ahead regardless could be something that the individual regrets later down then line when financial poor management catches up with them.
 
If you are yet to embark upon financial training or study, then here are some practical frameworks in the meantime:

•    Ensure you have excellent record keeping, including fully comprehensive sales and purchase ledgers.  Absolutely everything connected to the business and bought on behalf of the business should be tracked in detail (with receipts where necessary) and equally all sales made on behalf of the business should also be tracked.  Reconcile these ledgers weekly if not daily to ensure that income is meeting outgoings.
•    Prepare a budget – what out of the ordinary expenditure will be due?  This may include for example annual insurances, tax payments, IT renewals, professional membership renewals.  Review against purchase and sales ledgers.  Has enough money been put aside for these payments?
•    Consider the credit terms you offer to clients; does the speed at which you collect payments allow you to meet creditor demands?  If you are giving credit to clients then always reference their credit worthiness. There are plenty of companies online providing this service. Where possible take payments in advance.
•    Avoid taking on debt. Where possible defer large purchases until such a time as you’ve generated sufficient net profits to make the payments. Debt is a sure way to burden your business – often unnecessarily.  
•    Consider how best to develop your financial skills – whether this be via online research, online courses, mentoring from someone within your network or face to face training, it is essential that you put a development plan in place.  At the very least develop a detailed understanding of terms such as cash flow, profit margins, assets, liabilities, net profit, gross profit, balance sheet, expenses, operating costs and depreciation.
 
By prioritising the need for financial literacy you have already increased the chances of your business succeeding.  Get this fundamental skill under your belt and you give yourself a significant competitive advantage.

Training South West supply business training to companies across the South West, including Dorset, Somerset and Exeter.  Courses may be tailored specifically and delivered in-house, or, via open settings. Financial courses include 'Introduction to Finance Management' and 'Advanced Financial Skills'.

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Hero or Villain? How would you be Portrayed in an Online Customer Care Story?

Hero or Villain? How would you be Portrayed in an Online Customer Care Story?

The Somerset County Gazette featured an article on 24th September outlining a family's disgust at the accommodation they were placed in when visiting a holiday site in Burnham on Sea (a seaside resort in Somerset).

The family report what can only be described as a nightmare for any family who has spent money in the anticipation of a relaxing holiday.  Stomach turning photographs and the family's account of cigarette ends under the bed, an ants' nest, filthy hob,insect clad skylight and a lack of safety equipment  all add to the horror of the story. To add further damage, the report outlines the alleged lack of customer care by the company in question when responding appropriately to the family's issues.

Since, the British seem to love stories of this nature then, without doubt it will have been 'liked', 'shared' and commented on.

Although the company in question defend their position, the damage has been done and the situation truly reflects the impact of such stories on the internet and social media streams. Failure to deal with a customer complaint immediately and to the satisfaction of the customer does - and will continue to result in individuals using the internet to air their grievances.

The impact of such stories comes at a significant cost to the company and can undo years of positive PR very quickly. The stories can result in cancellations by people with existing future bookings and also a decline in the repeat business of individuals who would otherwise frequent the resort regularly.

Since the potential for an individual to provide toxic PR for your company through a poor customer care attitude is boundless, then a well communicated customer care plan coupled with strict customer care expectations for all staff members is essential.   Customer care training should be a core commitment of all businesses with a recognition that the business is nothing without its customers.  This commitment should be manifest in management behaviour and attitudes and training should be compulsory for all staff members. Staff should fully understand the customer care standards that the company has in place and methods for responding appropriately to even the most difficult customers.  It is paramount that they appreciate the significance of protecting the reputation of their company in such interactions and the damage that can potentially be done by mismanaging the situation. Managers should then monitor the situation closely; listen to how staff deal with customers, understand the potential impact on the customer and intervene if they feel that the customer has not received the level of customer care promoted by the company.  Ideally, there should be zero tolerance for any negligence in managing customer care needs.

Companies should also consider formal complaint procedures which allow complaints to be formally documented.  Formal complaint documents allow a company to identify trends.  For example, is this issue repeating itself?  If so, what preventative actions should be put in place to stop it happening in the first place or, if it's an issue which cannot be prevented (for example the Burnham on Sea complaint involves the invasion of ants which is common on agricultural land) then what robust contingent actions should be in place?  It may also transpire that a particular individual is involved in an excessive number of complaints.  Where this is the case,  increased customer care training becomes essential.

Good customer care stories make the news too. For example, an incredibly uplifting story, published by the Metro, in which a McDonald's employee took the time and care to help a disabled customer eat his meal went viral recently. Although this story is a genuine act of respect and kindness by the employee, it makes fantastic positive PR for McDonald's. McDonald's are certainly the hero of this particular article. Even in the event of a complaint,  a company's commitment to good customer care makes it more likely that the company will receive positive PR. For example, individuals communicating via Trip Advisor, Facebook or other avenues may report that 'despite x,y or z being an issue the company were quick to resolve the situation and took the complaint seriously'. Such stories result in potential future customers feeling assured that if an issue were to happen that the company would take immediate action to resolve the situation and they are more likely to trust making a booking with the company.

It is paramount therefore, that you protect your company from the type of bad PR experienced by the company in Burnham on Sea and ensure that your customer care processes work effectively and that your staff have equal buy in to the importance of the standards and procedures. Check your processes regularly and consider a 'secret shopper' to assess the degree to which your staff promote your standards.

Training South West provide Customer Care training and related business training to companies across the South West, including Somerset, Dorset and Exeter.

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Are your Presentations Presentable?

Are your Presentations Presentable?

Did you know surveys have shown that people fear delivering a presentation more than dying or divorce?  The good news for those of you who are not seasoned presenters however is that good preparation and confidence in your materials can go a long way to reducing potential presentation anxiety.

Follow these simple tips and ensure that not only are your presentations of value to your audience but that you also enjoy delivering them:

•    When preparing your presentation try to use a variety of different media; come equipped for example with a tangible product if possible to pass around, maybe incorporate a short media clip, or use a prop to demonstrate a point. Variety helps to retain participant interest.
•    Ensure that your presentation is short and snappy.  Each page should be to the point and not text heavy. The purpose of a presentation is for you as the presenter to deliver the content, not your slides. The slides are there merely to add emphasis and clarification to what you are saying. They are not there as a crib sheet and you should avoid reading from any length off them.
•    Use slide animation tools to enable each segment of information to appear separately upon individual clicks.  This will help you structure your presentation more effectively whilst also avoiding participants reading ahead and losing sight of what you are saying.
•    Use graphics to break up the text and to lighten if the mood if the topic is very dry.
•    Use a distinct font and not one that is artistic and hence possibly distracting. You should aim for your headers to be size 20-26 and for your main text to be 16-18.
•    Use the ‘bold’ font rather than underlining or capitals as the latter can be distracting.
•    Proof read your presentation thoroughly before delivery and ask a colleague to do a double check as there’s nothing worse than being mid presentation and finding errors.
•    When introducing yourself, keep calm and don’t rush.  If you gain participant confidence within the first 30 seconds of your speech and manage to keep good control, then you should find that the rest comes naturally as your audience will give off visible signs that they are confident in you.  Rehearse your introduction repeatedly to ensure that you have it under your belt.  Inject a little humour if you feel it’s appropriate but avoid telling jokes. Incorporate for example a humorous quote which is relevant to your topic.
•    If you feel nervous at first, then do not relay this to your audience by apologising as they will start observing you for nerves and feel on edge themselves.  Take a deep breath, smile and carry on.  
•    You may want to incorporate an activity at the very beginning and get people on their feet doing something; using for example, a two minute icebreaker relevant to your theme.  This takes the attention off you for a short while and puts it back on the participants – a great tactic if you are feeling a little anxious at the very start.
•    Be aware of the speed at which you are speaking.  It’s not uncommon for people to unwittingly leave their audience behind as they race through their presentation.  Be aware therefore of how long you want to spend on each slide and ensure that you give each slide its fair due.  

If you come to your presentation equipped with a well-structured presentation, remember to smile and make good eye contract then you should find the rest comes naturally. Reinforce business skills such as delivering presentations with plenty of practice, as we all know, practice makes perfect!

Training South West delivers business training courses to companies across the South West.

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